In one year, from August 29 to September 5, 2024, the Paralympic goalball tournament will take place in Paris, Porte de Versailles.
Automatically qualified as the organizing country, France will participate for the first time. Gwendoline Matos absolutely wants to be there. The 29-year-old Franc-Comtoise with lucky blue locks trains tirelessly in order to keep her place in the French selection. “Everything I do, on a daily basis, aims to achieve this goal,” repeats this ball of energy with a strong character.
Little known in France where it made its appearance only seven years ago, goalball is one of the most popular team sports in the Paralympic world. Invented in 1946 to help war veterans who had lost their sight rehabilitate, it follows fairly simple rules. Each team consists of three players. All wear an opaque mask over their eyes to equalize the degree of blindness. The objective: score a goal by throwing a large ball filled with sounding bells at ground level.
Fun, physical and strategic, “goalball develops sensory skills that are very useful in the daily lives of visually impaired people,” emphasizes Charly Simo, technical manager of the French Handisport Federation. They have to mentally map the terrain and find landmarks.”
This sport also allows practitioners to flourish and discover ambitions. Like Gwendoline Matos, who was never predestined to become a high-level athlete. With goal-ball, the young woman found her way to overcome her handicap and push her limits.
Goalball, a sport that is gaining ground
The French Handisport Federation has around 27,000 members, 15% of whom are visually impaired or blind.
These visually impaired people can access around fifteen sports. Some, such as athletics, judo or swimming, are designed to adapt to the disability. Others, specific, have no equivalent among able-bodied people. This is the case for goalball, but also torball, a less energetic cousin of goalball, and showdown, a kind of table tennis. Among the dedicated disciplines, only goalball, women’s and men’s, is on the program for the Paralympic Games. Thanks to the prospect of Paris 2024, this sport has been progressing in France since the organization of the first competition in 2016. Around 150 people practice it today in a dozen clubs.